Cortona is a Tuscan town once little known to travelers booking for Florence. After the publication of Under the Tuscan Sun (and the subsequent film and follow-up books) it garnered a place on every visitor’s agenda. Justifiably so.
In this Italian hilltop town of 30,000 there are more sights than a visitor could see in three vacations. Located about half-way between its much more famous neighbors of Rome and Florence this ancient city offers museums, restaurants, villas, biking tours and much more.
The founding date is unknown, but Cortona’s streets were walled in by the Etruscans more than 2,600 years ago. Some of that history is still extant near the Porta Guelfa and the Porta Montanina. At the base one can spot Roman repairs made to Etruscan slabs.
Inside, looking out above the walls, visitors will find a breathtaking view of Lake Trasimeno from the square of Piazza Garibaldi. Just past the church is an entrance to a park. The fountain in the center features two bronze dolphins that will reward the effort of the short walk. Just left is an amphitheater that offers a lovely place to sit and see part of beautiful Tuscany.
The Piazza Grande, featuring the Town Hall that dates from the 6th century, is another must-visit location. If your visit to Cortona falls on the first Saturday of the month, be sure to take in the Market. Food, small artifacts and many more interesting items are offered for sale. In nearby Casali Palace there’s a National Market of Ancient Furniture held in the Piazza Grande during the last two weeks of August.
From there one can also almost see the ancient burial grounds of Cetona Belvedere. Full of grottoes and caverns to explore, they’re one of the many delightful excursions offered. One can also get a clear view of the tallest peak of the local mountain range. Down from the top is located another town worthy of a visit, Montepulciano.
Another worthy short trip entails a visit to the Great Cloister of the Monastero Di Monte Oliveto Maggiore. Built in 1443, tourists will want to see the frescoes depicting the life of Saint Benedict by Signorelli, painted near the end of the 15th century.
Those interested in religious architecture will also not want to miss viewing the church of Santa Maria del Calcinaio, built in 1485. This Renaissance structure is octagonal, an unusual choice for the period.
Another unusual sight within the city walls visitors can take in is the Torre del Pulcinella, a large public clock. It announces the hours by a different technique. Its chimes are a pair of clanging cymbals, rather than a bell.
Not far away is the Museo dell’Academia Etrusca. Despite the name the museum covers not just Etruscan art, but everything from ancient Egyptian artifacts to paintings of the 15th century. Also on display are books, period furniture and sculpture.
By contrast, the Museo Diocesano offers a more focused exhibit. This includes the Cortona Altarpiece from 1432 along with six predella. Predella, in painting, are small paintings that run along a frame at the bottom of an altarpiece.
However long you have, an hour or a day, or even a week, time in Cortona is well spent.